SHARE
COPY LINK

SHUTDOWN

Germany set to tighten shutdown as Covid-19 variants fuel fears

Despite numbers easing slightly, Chancellor Angela Merkel and leaders of Germany's 16 states are expected to extend and tighten lockdown measures beyond January, as fears grow over virus variant strains believed to be more contagious.

Germany set to tighten shutdown as Covid-19 variants fuel fears
The S-Bahn in Stuttgart on Tuesday. Photo: DPA

Draft measures seen ahead of the emergency talks include prolonging current restrictions until at least mid-February, requiring medical masks on public transport and in shops, and increasing pressure on employers to allow staff to work from home where possible. 

Germany closed restaurants, leisure and sporting facilities in November, then expanded the shutdown in mid-December to include schools and most shops to halt runaway growth in new coronavirus infections.

The measures ordered until the end of January have brought about a “flattening of the infections curve”, said Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert, noting also that the number of patients in intensive care had also fallen slightly.

“This trend is cautiously positive and a success of the restrictions of the last weeks,” he said.

“But it only brings us to the point where we still have a long way to go before we can say we have the infections under control,” he added.

Virus variants first seen in Britain and South Africa also posed major risks to whether the falling infections trend could be sustained, added Seibert.

The crisis talks due to be held on Tuesday afternoon between Merkel and the 16 state premiers were brought forward by a week because of the virus variants.

“It is a risk that responsible politicians must take into account – sooner rather than later,” he added.

READ ALSO: Will the rest of Germany follow Bavaria's lead in tightening measures?

Work from home call

Germany got out of the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic relatively well, but a second wave hit Europe's biggest economy hard.

New infections have soared far above the 50 per 100,000 people incidence rate threshold set by the government. And just last Thursday, the country saw a new high in daily deaths, at 1,244.

Seibert noted that the incidence rate was still at over 130 per 100,000, and that Germany “must more quickly” bring that down to 50.

He would not be drawn on specific measures that could be decided on Tuesday, but said discussions would surround “issues like working from home, medical masks, public transport — not about the complete halt of public transport but about reducing contact in them”.

READ ALSO: Is Germany set to introduce tougher lockdown measures in January?

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier last week issued a joint appeal with union and employer federation representatives, urging firms to have staff work from home “whenever possible”.

More could be done to keep non-essential workers out of the office and off public transport, they said.

Experts have been alarmed by data showing that while a first shutdown in spring last year had led to a sharp drop of 40 percent in mobility, this winter, far more people appear to be on the move.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Bavaria's new FFP2 mask obligation

Disease control agency Robert Koch Institute and Berlin's Humboldt University have found from data collected from mobile phone signals that last Wednesday, the mobility of Germans was only 15 percent below that from a year ago.

RKI chief Lothar Wieler has pleaded for rigorous implementation of curb that have already been ordered, saying that there were too many exceptions being offered.

In northern Germany, authorities were planning to take more drastic measures against people who breach quarantine rules.

Schleswig-Holstein state's justice ministry is turning a youth detention centre into a forced quarantine site for those who do not isolate themselves when required to.

By Hui Min Neo
                               

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

HEALTH

EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

Due to high Covid infection numbers throughout the summer, it’s now possible to get a sick note from a doctor over the phone again for some illnesses. Here’s what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

What’s happened?

In spring 2020, German authorities changed the law so that people with a mild upper respiratory tract illness, such as the common cold, were able to get an incapacity to work certificate or AU-Bescheinigung by simply calling and speaking to their GP.

The rule was extended several times and finally reversed on June 1st this year due to falling infection figures. Since then people have had to go back to the practice – or do a video call if the doctor’s office has that system in place – to get a sick note.

Now, due to a decision by the Joint Federal Committee, the regulation has been reintroduced and patients can call their GP again for a sick note.

Can I get a sick note over the phone for any illness?

No. As before, the regulation only applies to patients suffering from a mild upper respiratory tract illness. Though Covid has not explicitly been named in the announcement, it seems that it is intended to be covered by the regulation.

If the doctor is convinced that the patient is unfit for work after a telephone consultation, then they can issue a sick note for up to seven days.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The changes around doctor’s notes in Germany you should know

If the symptoms persist after seven days, the certificate can be extended once more for another week.

Why now?

According to the Chairman of the G-BA, Josef Hecken, the regulation has been introduced now as a response to rising Covid numbers and in anticipation of the cold and flu season in the coming months: “We want to avoid full waiting rooms in doctors’ offices and the emergence of new infection chains,” he said.

The telephone sick leave rule is a simple, proven and uniform nationwide solution for that, he said. The rule is also necessary because video consultation hours are not yet available everywhere.

What else should I know?

The health insurer DAK is calling for telephone sick leave in the case of light respiratory diseases to be made possible on a permanent basis in Germany. DAK’s CEO Andreas Storm said that this should “not always be up for debate, because it has proven itself.” 

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about making a doctor’s appointment in Germany

The social association VdK also welcomed the reintroduction of the rule. The VdK’s President Verena Bentele said that the regulation would help to protect high-risk groups in particular from potential infections.

What are the rules to know about sick notes in Germany?

Germany has a strict system in place. If you are sick, you need to give your employer a Krankmeldung (notification of sickness) before the start of work on the first day (of your illness).

However, you also need to hand in a Krankschreibung (doctor’s note) on the fourth day of your illness. Some employments contracts, however, require you to submit a sick not earlier than the fourth day so check with your boss or HR on that point. 

SHOW COMMENTS